Czech Republic: Festive Demonstrations in Prague
PRAGUE -- "You are not to throw stones, you are not to push. This is to be a nonviolent demonstration," said a woman with an Italian accent from a loudspeaker as about 2,000 anti-globalization demonstrators pressed in Tuesday against Czech armored cars and riot police guarding a bridge in Prague.
The front line was a scene of confrontation, with riot police three-deep stopping protesters, occasionally by leaking tear gas in their direction and by truncheon blows, from advancing toward the Congress Center on the other side of the several-hundred-meter(-yard)-long bridge, where delegates from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are holding their annual plenary meeting.
At one standoff point, protesters were packed shoulder-to-shoulder about 500 meters deep against the police front line. A naked man among them waved at the helicopters circling above the demonstration.
In other areas, clashes between the two sides had left about 15 police officers and several demonstrators injured, public radio CRo reported.
About 400 anarchists mounted several attempts to break through police cordons to reach the Congress Center, throwing paving stones and Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas grenades, firecrackers and water cannon, the raido said.
Two hours earlier, a festive march of mainly young people carrying red revolutionary flags and a wide spectrum of anti-capitalist banners had set off from Peace Square in downtown Prague, 1.5 kilometers (one mile) away.
The goal of the roughly 6,000 demonstrators: to surround the Congress Center and stop the delegates from leaving, in a protest similar to that in Seattle last November where protesters had stopped World Trade Organization delegates, including US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, from getting into a meeting.
But the marchers had stalled at several points, including a standoff at a bridge leading to the Congress Center.
The contrast between the police, looking like space-age warriors in their helmets and opaque visors, and the protesters, dressed mainly in jeans, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts of the grunge and post-grunge age, seemed to sum up the protesters' self-proclaimed struggle of being erstwhile Robin Hoods trying to save the world's poor from oppression by international multilateral agencies.
The demonstrators set off from Peace Square with banners and posters that said "People Not Profit," "IMF + WB = Hitler 2000," and other such slogans, as well as a huge, blue balloon saying "Balls to the IMF."
Just before they left, young people were dancing to hip-hop music at an improvised stage and a group was snaking throw the square holding a rainbow-colored banner.
They left the square under the peaceful gaze of uniformed city police, even when the procession split off into side streets to fool police and find access to the Congress Center.
To the latter of two police helicopters circling overhead, the marchers danced, at one point to a band clothed in pink, complete with young women dressed carnival-style in revealing pink gowns that tailed out in the back with butterfly wings.
Astrid Schonemann, a 19-year-old philosophy student from Olso, said about the mixture of leftists, mostly from European countries: "It is amazing. So many people are here and from so many places."
US national Robin Denburg, who was an organizaer at both the Seattle protests and those here, said the low protester turnout, far below the 20,000 organizers had wanted and said they needed to block off the Congress Center, did not matter.
"No matter what happens here in Prague we have already been successful in raising the issues about why the IMF and World Bank need to significantly reform their institutions or be abolished."
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